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Valhalla and Ragnarök seem to be, more than ever, the big buzzwords of anything even slightly “viking” inspired. As a result, the marketing geniuses over at Ubisoft have rammed them both together to create the holy grail of Nordic mythology mass appeal. Leaping onto the bandwagon with a spectacular flourish, we’re getting a game that’s probably called “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök” at full length.
I know it’s not that wordy a title. It’s hardly on par with some of those unwieldy westernised anime titles we see on a regular basis. But it does sound incredibly like they’re trying to hit an SEO requirement by having both of those key phrases in one place. By combining both words (brevity be damned) they can be damn sure that Valhalla pops up every time someone searches for the new Vikings series or the follow-up to 2018’s fantastic God of War.
Now, I’m gonna be honest. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is by no means a terrible game. But compared to God of War (and even some tangentially Nordic inspired titles like Crusader Kings III) it’s mediocre. Valhalla, at the end of the day, is Viking fast food. It’s a McOdin with a side of large Freyas. If you just want to listen to a bunch of burly, bearded men call each other brother and say “skål” a lot whilst chucking some axes around, it does the job.
Sometimes, that hits the spot. Sometimes you don’t really want to dig any deeper – you just want a bit of light fantasy fun to while away the hours. But Valhalla just takes up so, so much time. The main story is actually pretty good. There’s some decent Vikings/Last Kingdom-esque political intrigue, the odd dive into old Celtic/Norse mysticism, and plenty of bloody conflict for good measure.
Even most of the detours – and boy, are there a lot of detours – hold up as decent stories in their own right. The problem is simply that there are too many steps away from the main campaign to keep it compelling. Imagine if you were reading a decent book that had about fifty pages of filler after every chapter. If after every exciting bit of Lord of the Rings the fellowship randomly fucked off to another town for several hours.
Heads up – spoilers for Valhalla ahead.
The exact moment I lost steam with Valhalla was after returning from Norway. Sigurd decided to stay; probably because I disagreed with him on literally everything he ever said or did and slept with his wife (little bit of an overreaction if you ask me). I assumed the game was winding down. I was the new chieftain, for better or worse. I’d rejected Odin’s influence and become my own person. Surely it’s all just overpriced, medium-effort DLC from here on out?
Nope. There’s a whole other story arc. One, according to the game’s leveling system, I was woefully unprepared for. I just had nothing left to give to Valhalla at that point. I did return out of an odd mix of curiosity and pity when the first DLC arrived, but even the majesty of ancient Ireland couldn’t hold my attention.
Then the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök (yes, I’m insisting on giving the game its full title) dropped.
Mythology fans rejoice – Valhalla has finally ditched all that first-class historical realism and leaned fully into the mythos that inspires it. “Embrace Eivor’s destiny as Odin”, the official description reads. I’m not going to linger too long on ACV:DoR ‘s mythological content, because I really need to start getting to the point. But as you can see from the trailer above, Valhalla‘s going completely fantasy action RPG with this expansion. (Which is, by the way, priced as a full game – ouch).
Valhalla’s (slightly) realistic setting was the one thing it had going for it as a Nordic-inspired game.
Here’s the problem as I see it. God of War is the superior game in basically every way. The gameplay is bulletproof, and it uses the mythology to tell a deeply personal and unique story. It doesn’t rely on the mythology to paint the whole picture, if that makes sense. However, what it doesn’t offer is a Viking sandbox. There’s no longships, no raids, no mead-chugging, no gallivanting around England or Norway living some faint semblance of the life those ancient people did.
This is pretty much the only thing Valhalla has over God of War (Well, that and Einar Selvik). Yes, Valhalla did have an extensive side story where you relived Odin’s memories, fought alongside other gods and killed frost giants. But there wasn’t much hiding the fact that it was basically the original game in fancy wrapping paper. I’m sure they’ll add some new elements to carry the mythological aspect further, but it’s not going to be that different at the end of the day.
By expanding into the mythology, they’re actually just doubling down on what is probably Valhalla’s weakest aspect whilst neglecting the most enjoyable bit. Ubisoft just need to own up to the fact that they’ve created the world’s biggest virtual Renaissance/Medieval Fair and do more with that. By stepping further into the high-fantasy, mythos focused realms of Ragnarök, they’re just trying to square up to God of War and Kratos (and we all know how those fights usually end).
That’s not a comparison they want to invite – and while throwing both of those Nordic buzzwords into one title might keep Valhalla search engine relevant for a little bit longer, the proof will be in the product. And that product is developed by Ubisoft, so make up your own mind on that one.